September 16, 2022

Perry Zurn and Dani S. Bassett

Harvard Book Store welcomes PERRY ZURN and DANI BASSETT—identical twins and professors of philosophy and engineering, respectively—for a discussion of their co-authored book Curious Minds: The Power of Connection. They are joined in conversation by physicist, neuroscientist, and engineer KRISTY JOHNSON.


Curious about something? Google it. Look at it. Ask a question. But is curiosity simply information seeking? According to this exhilarating, genre-bending book, what’s left out of the conventional understanding of curiosity are the wandering tracks, the weaving concepts, the knitting of ideas, and the thatching of knowledge systems—the networks, the relations between ideas and between people. Curiosity, say Perry Zurn and Dani Bassett, is a practice of connection: it connects ideas into networks of knowledge, and it connects knowers themselves, both to the knowledge they seek and to each other.

Zurn and Bassett—identical twins who write that their book “represents the thought of one mind and two bodies”—harness their respective expertise in the humanities and the sciences to get irrepressibly curious about curiosity. Traipsing across literatures of antiquity and medieval science, Victorian poetry and nature essays, as well as work by writers from a variety of marginalized communities, they trace a multitudinous curiosity. They identify three styles of curiosity—the busybody, who collects stories, creating loose knowledge networks; the hunter, who hunts down secrets or discoveries, creating tight networks; and the dancer, who takes leaps of creative imagination, creating loopy ones. Investigating what happens in a curious brain, they offer an accessible account of the network neuroscience of curiosity. And they sketch out a new kind of curiosity-centric and inclusive education that embraces everyone’s curiosity. The book performs the very curiosity that it describes, inviting readers to participate—to be curious with the book and not simply about it.

About Author(s)

Perry Zurn is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at American University, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies. He researches in political philosophy, critical theory, and trans philosophy, with special expertise in feminist philosophy, philosophies of resistance, and network theory. Zurn is the author of Curiosity and Power: The Politics of Inquiry (2021) and the co-author of Curious Minds: The Power of Connection. Zurn is an avid hiker, rock-skipper, and gardener. But his favorite thing is words.

Dani Bassett is the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Electrical & Systems Engineering, Physics & Astronomy, Neurology, and Psychiatry. Bassett is most well-known for blending neural and systems engineering to identify fundamental mechanisms of cognition and disease in human brain networks. Bassett’s work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Army Research Office, the Army Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Defense, the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation. Bassett has a book coming out this year with MIT Press, co-authored with philosopher and twin Perry Zurn, and titled Curious Minds: The Power of Connection.

Kristy Johnson is a physicist, neuroscientist, and engineer whose research centers around individuals with complex neurodevelopmental differences, including rare genetic disorders, autism, and absent or limited spoken speech. Johnson received her Ph.D. from MIT and she holds both an M.S. and B.S. with highest honors in physics. At MIT, Johnson was twice named an MIT Hugh Hampton Young Fellow and three times named an MIT Media Lab Learning Innovation Fellow for her trans-disciplinary research. Johnson is currently a Rosamund Stone Zander Translational Neuroscience Center postdoctoral fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.